Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance has been a massive challenge for me in my healing journey. It took me quite a while to figure out what was happening.

In this blog post I want to explore:

How to recognize cognitive dissonance

  • how it affects you, and

  • what you can do to deal with it.

Cognitive dissonance is when you experience a sense of unreality and confusion. You struggle with experiencing inconsistent beliefs, or actions and behaviour is not matching what your are being told. It creates a situation where you develop an inability to trust your own perception of the situation. It leaves you feeling anxious, confused an unbalanced, trying to find was to come to peace and make sense of the situation. The gaslighting that occurs in abusive relationships leads directly to cognitive dissonance. "You didn't see or hear what you thought you did, this is what really happened, what is the matter with you." You are left confused and hurt.

Some behaviour resulting from cognitive dissonance can be things such as obsessive thinking, justifying, rationalization shame and guilt. It can cause you to feel isolated and alone.

I had lived in a state of confusion for so long, that it had become my normal. I thought it was just me, and my negative outlook on life that was the problem. I was an inherently ill-natured person and this is way I was in a constant struggle.

I was in psychological pain. And to add insult to my injury, it was portrayed to me as a sign that I was mentally ill. I was obsessive, I ruminated would replay events in my mind non-stop, wondering and dissecting every little aspect. In my mind if I could understand why, then the obsessive thoughts would just go away. But I could never understand any why, I was never able to make sense of it. I was embarrassed by this, because I knew it was not how healthy well balanced people spend their time.

I really had to hold back, to appear normal, calm like everyone else. I could not stop the never ending cycle of my thoughts. It interfered with my career, my pastimes and my ability to connect with my friends and family. I would have trouble being about to communicate my thoughts and feelings in a coherent way so I stopped talking. I kept my conversations at a surface level so people wouldn't pick up on the tornado in my brain.

Like most victims, my first response was to blame myself, it was my fault.

In my marriage I experienced enormous confusion. This person is telling you they love you, yet they treat you with contempt. You don't feel love. You are starving for affection and caring, just aching to be able to feel safe. Feeling empty and sad. I was being told that I was being loved, and it was just me never being satisfied with anything. Your not sad, your just unappreciative. Everything is great, but you are just miserable.

Prior to my marriage, I had never had an issue with jealousy. I was never bothered by women being around or being attracted to my boyfriends. It was a strange to me when my ex would constantly tell me I was jealous. That isn't what I thought I was feeling. Yet he constantly accused me of being crazy fucked up jealous. His family would make comments to me about my jealousy. I wondered why they were saying that, I had never had any of those conversations with them. (I think now my ex was telling them about my jealous leanings when my back was turned) None of this made sense to me. There were things happening that were of legitimate concern, that any wife would see as a problem, but he was calling it jealousy. After while I didn't know who I was any more. Was I jealous? I had this vague memory of that not being an issue. But I was being told otherwise by my husband and his family.

It wasn't until I understood that many of the reactions I experienced were typical reactions to cognitive dissonance that I began to be able to extricate myself from it. You are not crazy. Your feelings are valid. I spent hours asking my friends the same question. "Am I crazy?" "Is it actually that bad?" "is that really abuse?" I would be constantly asking others opinions because I didn't trust my own instincts.

Even now I still need reassurance from time to time. Even though I know my marriage was abusive, I still need to ask again. I took along time to accept I am not crazy at all, its the situations that were crazy.

One of the main reasons I experienced cognitive dissonance, is I didn't want to face the truth. I clung to the idea that my ex was in fact this wonderful loving man he portrayed himself to be. Somehow if I just found the key to understand it all, everything would be ok and we could all live happily. That utopia they described was actually possible. When it wasn't happening, I just got more twisted up inside as I refused to accept the facts.

The key to resolving cognitive dissonance is validation. Unfortunately, this doesn't come easy. It took me a couple years of my friends listening to me go on and on, constantly reassuring me that, yes, what I perceived was true. For me, the way I have finally resolved this was first learning about abuse and gaslighting. I spent a lot of time talking to friends and my therapist, unfortunately repeating basically the same thing over and over until I finally accepted the truth. (Thank god for the patience of my friends, it must of been torture) I had to hear the same thing from many, many different people in order to accept it. As a survivor having that validation helps you to accept the facts and begin the process of moving on.

In addition, learning about why victims of trauma are prone to experiencing cognitive dissonance has been extremely helpful. Its very common for victims of abuse to struggle with cognitive dissonance. One thing I think is really important to recognize, is working through the emotion and confusion that comes along with cognitive dissonance takes time and patience, truly be kind with yourself here. You may know something in your head, and it takes quite a while for your heart to catch up. Don't beat yourself up over this, give yourself the love and kindness you need be gentle. As one of my good friends says "it takes a long time to unfuck yourself" What your going through is normal after an abusive relationship. But you can heal from it and one day it will be better.

As I have healed and resolved my cognitive dissonance, there are a few side affects I have noticed. One, I have a lot more time, time I used to spend obsessing now can be spend on more constructive pastimes. And two, I found my mind really cleared up, I am able to focus and think a lot clearer. My mind can manage much more complex information more quickly. Its becoming clear as Lisa Romano says "Its not you, its your programming" That is very very true.

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